114. To ask the Minister for Justice and Equality in view of the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean concerning persons seeking to enter Europe, her plans to assist in this in terms of resettling persons and tackling the persons engaged in the exploitation and trafficking of vulnerable persons; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20217/15]
Seán Kyne TD:
This question relates to the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean concerning persons who are seeking to enter the European Union and the Minister’s plans to assist in resettling immigrants and tackling those engaged in the exploitation and trafficking of vulnerable persons. I appreciate that there is a large crossover with the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which deals with EU affairs. The crisis is ongoing.
Frances Fitzgerald, Minister for Justice and Equality:
This obviously is a very big issue for Europe and every country therein. We are all very conscious of the huge humanitarian crisis owing to people attempting to cross over from Libya and Syria. I had discussions on this issue yesterday with the Secretary General of the United Nations who praised Irish initiatives on resettlement. I announced recently that Ireland would take 300 additional refugees this year as a response to the European package of measures announced. Strictly on the basis of the quota, the number would have been fewer than 300, but, in fact, we had already agreed to take 150. That brings the total number of refugees who will be resettled by the end of the year and into next year to 450. Obviously, we are very conscious of the tragic loss of life in the Mediterranean, including, in April the loss of an estimated 800 lives in one incident. By taking the measures about which I have just informed the House, we are responding to what has been requested of us. We have dispatched the Irish naval vessel to assist in the humanitarian search and rescue tasks in the Mediterranean.
I have attended the various meetings of EU Justice and Home affairs Ministers. A broad range of conclusions has been arrived at and broad priorities have been laid out. They focus on a number of initiatives, including strengthening the European Union’s presence at sea and interrupting and fighting traffickers in accordance with international law. Fighting traffickers is an essential part of our response. Another focus is preventing illegal migration flows. From the discussions yesterday with the Secretary General, it was very clear that, at European level, we needed to initiate more legal ways for people in need to gain access to all of our countries, whether it was through the use of more legal routes to enter countries, the granting of visas in particular circumstances or educational opportunities.
I acknowledge that this is a very complex issue that concerns a number of Departments, including the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade which is responsible for European affairs and the Department responsible for the marine considering the response involving the LÉ Eithne.
On the point about the Council of Ministers, will there be ongoing discussions between the Minister’s Department and her colleagues across Europe on tackling the criminals who are profiting from trafficking? Will this be a key focus of her partners?
While I acknowledge that development aid is not within the remit of the Department of Justice and Equality, will there be a focus on those areas where development aid is needed, particularly those countries in which economic conditions result in people seeking to risk their lives to have a better life in Europe?
Clearly, there must be a very intense focus on dealing with traffickers. This relates to the current humanitarian crisis but, of course, it is also an ongoing issue in Ireland and elsewhere in respect of the trafficking of women and children.
Dealing with it is a priority for the Garda Commissioner and An Garda Síochána. There are ongoing discussions at European level about the legal mechanisms and the legal authority under which this work will be done but it is certainly a priority. It is very important because there is no question that people are being abused by unscrupulous traffickers and this has led to the deaths about which we have spoken. Clearly, the larger issue is what is happening in conflict areas and the need for those countries to be helped in conflict resolution. This is a significant international challenge. not just a European challenge.